MotoGP 2010 Phillip Island Preview

There's no two ways about it - Casey Stoner needs a win at home


MotoGP correspondent Bruce Allen previews the Phillip Island round of the 2010 season. Check back on Monday for the full report of the Australian Grand Prix.

With Fiat Yamaha idol Jorge Lorenzo having clinched the 2010 MotoGP world championship, our attention now turns to the race for second and third place. Wounded Repsol Honda attack rat Dani Pedrosa currently sits in second by himself with 248 points. A mere two points separate third-place Valentino Rossi and fifth-place Andrea Dovizioso, with Casey Stoner sandwiched in between the two. Unlike most years, we head into the final three rounds with four of the top riders determined to do well. As they say at Southwest Airlines, “It’s ON!”

Pedrosa is set to return to action this week, barely two weeks after trashing his left collarbone in an early practice session in Japan. And although he enjoys a 47 point margin over Rossi & Co., there is no way he’s going to be in top form this week, nor perhaps for the rest of the campaign. His second place perch is at risk, and he knows it. He picked a terribly inconvenient time to get seriously injured, in a season where he was one rider away from winning it all. ¡Qué vergüenza, Dani.

Dani Pedrosa is planning to race on Phillip Island despite a broken collarbone.

Two of the other three contenders are essentially lame ducks, with Rossi on his way to Ducati next year and Stoner heading for Team Honda. Rossi, coming off a mesmerizing performance at Sepang, where he roared back from 11th place to win, appears to have put his balky shoulder back in its place, so to speak. His over-the-top performance the prior round in Japan, where he basically threw down on Lorenzo, had me thinking he wanted to be done with the 2010 season, and was willing to risk a suspension to get there. But his Sepang triumph tells me he’d like to run the table, finish 2010 on a roll, and take some momentum with him to the Bologna factory. For the first time in three years, Rossi has something at stake going into the season’s end. My advice to the world is, “Watch out.”

Casey Stoner has won the last three Phillip Island races, with a disinterested Rossi finishing second the last two years. Stoner enjoyed a second place finish at Estoril in 2009 and a win at Valencia in 2008. However, at Estoril in 2008 he finished sixth, and had a memorable high-side during the sighting lap at last year’s Valenciana finale, losing out to Pedrosa for third place for the season in the process. In short, Stoner is facing a highly motivated group of riders, and needs a win in Australia to stay in the hunt for second place and to keep the pressure on Rossi and Dovizioso for third. A poor performance here could land him in fifth position heading back to Europe. He’ll likely have an easier time landing a sponsor for his Honda factory ride next year if he finishes 2010 on a high note.

The winner of the past three Phillip Island races, Casey Stoner again figures to be a favorite to win on his home track.

The wild card in all of this is Repsol Honda Andrea Dovizioso, who has returned to his impressive early season form over the past five rounds. True, he did crash out at Aragon while battling rookie Ben Spies for fifth place. But he chased Casey Stoner all over Motegi two weeks later, and did the same thing with Rossi last week in Malaysia. He’s the only one of the four contenders to have never finished in the top three in the premier class, and figures to be the most highly motivated rider out there not dealing with freshly fractured bones. Plus, he’s due for a win, not having tasted victory since Donington Park in 2009. If one of the last three rounds were in Italy, I might pick him to win.

Meanwhile, 2010 world champion Jorge Lorenzo – that has a nice ring to it – may go for glory over the next three rounds, or may instead see them as a kind of extended victory tour in which he can finish in the top five without breaking a sweat. My guess is that he will coast in Australia and Portugal, and go balls to the wall in Valenciana, for the sheer joy of sending the frantic Spanish racing fans into rapture. Of course, “coasting” for Lorenzo is the equivalent for many of the riders – here I’m thinking Hector Barbera and Randy de Puniet – of their best day EVER.

For a moment, Jorge Lorenzo considered racing the remaining rounds riding the shoulder of these two guys.

Mika Kallio – Will Ride for Food

Defending Rookie of the Year Mika Kallio, the great Finnish hope at Pramac Racing last season, is being given the hook for the last two rounds of the year, due to lingering injury issues. And a stubborn tendency to finish last in the races out of which he doesn’t crash. Kallio enjoyed nine Top Ten finishes last season, but only one so far this year, and has been a major disappointment to his team and the Baltic region as a whole. He’s on his way to Moto2 next year.

Carlos Checa will ride in place of Mika Kallio after finishing third in the 2010 WSBK Championship.

Carlos Checa, whose last appearance on a MotoGP bike was in 2007 while he was busy finishing 14th for Honda, has been retained for the last two rounds this season, teaming with soon-to-be-unemployed countryman Aleix Espargaro. This is great news for Loris Capirossi, who is six months younger than Checa, and no longer the oldest guy in the field. Not so great news for Espargaro, who also will be looking for a Moto2 ride next season, his seat reportedly being taken by Capirossi. THAT’S got to sting.

Dorna to Inflate the 2011 Grid?

Toni Elias has earned a return ticket to the MotoGP class after winning the Moto2 title.According to my friend David Emmett over at Motomatters.com, Dorna is preparing to open its purse strings in an effort to keep the 2011 grid at 17 riders. As reported here last week, the Interwetten Honda team is pulling out of the premier class after this season. In addition, Rizla Suzuki and Pramac Racing are reportedly planning to reduce their entries to one bike each, which would shrink the 2011 grid to just 15 bikes.

Dorna is reportedly in negotiations to subsidize a second bike at Pramac for newly crowned Moto2 champion Toni Elias, who clearly deserves a ticket back to the premier class. Hiro Aoyama, the odd man out in the satellite Honda world, would join up with Marco Simoncelli at the Gresini San Carlo Honda team, replacing Marco Melandri, who has already been announced as Cal Crutchlow’s replacement on the WSBK Yamaha Sterilgarda team. While these moves would enlarge the field, it’s not clear they would strengthen it. It blows my mind that Loris Capirossi is having an easier time finding a 2011 ride than either Aoyama or Elias.

Weekend Weather for the Greater Melbourne Area

Weather could play havoc with this weekend’s race, as temps are going to be chilly – in the 50’s – with rain in the forecast all weekend. Good news for Marco Melandri, the only certified “mudder” in the field. Bad news for Hiro Aoyama, whose high side at Silverstone was attributed to cold tires. Bad news, too, for Dani Pedrosa, whose bones will be aching enough without cold, damp conditions.

Nicky Hayden holds the current Phillip Island track record with a lap time of 1:30.059 set in 2008.

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